How To Write HEAVY-HITTING Rap Punchlines

Punchline rap is a skill that is easy to learn, yet hard to master. Many rappers attempt to create effective punchlines in their verses but fall short due to underwhelming delivery, poorly-written set-ups, and corny jokes.

This is very similar to stand-up comedy. Imagine you’re at a comedy club on amateur night. The comedian sets up a story that takes far too long without any internal jokes (called jab lines) and has zero charm or confidence in their tone. By the time he/she finally shovels the punchline down your throat, the only thing you can muster is a pity laugh.

On the contrary, let’s say the next performer walks on stage, and from the first sentence that comes out of his/her mouth, you know, “This is going to be GOOD.” They set up an intriguing story that has you invested throughout; sitting on the edge of your seat and anxious for the punchline. Then, they slow their speech. The suspense is killing you. They have you in the palm of their hands. The whole room is silent in anticipation of the big twist. Then, with flawless delivery…the punchline.

WHAT! You’ve never laughed so damn hard in your life. The room has erupted into deafening howls and belly-laughs. The comedian is standing on stage, a giant smile on his/her face, heart full of pride after a successful punchline.

Comedians and Rappers Alike

That amateur comedian is equivalent to an unknown artist, except you don’t have nearly as much time to set up. We operate in a much shorter form and it has to include clever wordplay, impressive rhyming, and flow effortlessly over a beat. So…some may argue we have a harder time getting a reaction out of people.

Here at Smart Rapper, we are dedicated to teaching you everything you need to know to get a reaction out of your audience. In this article, we are going to break down the art of punchline rap to a science, ensuring not only CAN you write punchlines, but you’re EXCELLENT at it.

Before we continue, be sure to enroll in our Rap Voice Masterclass where we teach you everything you need to discover your voice rappershortcut.com/rap-voice

Also, check out our writing course https://www.smartrapper.com/how-to-write-punchlines-and-multis-course/

Now, let’s start with a basic question…

What Are Punchlines?

I’ll be honest…researching how to tell a joke so I could find these definitions made me feel like I was a robot trying to learn how to act human.

Expected response to a joke is laughter. The joke teller hopes the audience “gets it” and is entertained (Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joke#Telling_jokes).”

Duh, right?

No one ever has to teach us how to laugh at jokes. It’s a primal instinct. However, in order to fully examine the science behind punchline rap, we have to start with the fundamentals.

The linguistic analysis of the mechanics of a punchline makes so much sense, and we don’t even actively think about it like this. I’ll include a quote, and then I’ll explain it in layman terms.

“Humor is evoked when a trigger, contained in the punch line, causes the audience to abruptly shift its understanding of the story from the primary (or more obvious) interpretation to a secondary, opposing interpretation (Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punch_line).” 

In other words, an effective punchline shifts our understanding of a story in a way that we did not expect.

Adversely, a jab line is a joke within the telling of a story. It is the humorous text throughout the premise of the story but does not always shift your understanding of the story. In fact, it often helps your interpretation in a humorous way.

Punchlines in Rap

Think of this in terms of rap.

Let’s say you have a great punchline that you want to add to the end of a bar in your verse. Adding jab lines throughout your verse keeps people’s attention and teases them for what’s to come. Let’s look at an example of this from Eminem’s track, Criminal:

The mother did drugs, hard liquor, cigarettes, and speed (set-up)

The baby came out, disfigured ligaments, indeed (premise with jab line)

It was a seed who would grow up just as crazy as she (premise with jab line)

Don’t dare make fun of that baby, ‘cause that baby was me (punchline)

I know this was a dark example, but his execution of the traditional three-part structure of a joke demonstrates my point exactly.

Puns and Double Entendres

Common elements of a rap punchline are metaphors/similes, puns, and double entendres, and using these will make your punchlines powerful and impressive. We all know what metaphors and similes are, but what is the difference between a pun and a double entendre?

What is a Pun?

Think of a pun as a word or phrase that could be interchanged with a different word or phrase, sound the same, but mean something completely different. Here’s an example from, yet again, Eminem, because he’s a master at this kind of stuff:

Holy Toledo, it’s Miss Ohio

That’s the best ass I’ve seen in a while

We should be datin’, she’s from Cleveland

But she’s a Bengal, this chick is catty

Is that a mini-skirt if it’s a maxi?

That’s the shortest thing for a dress since an addy (Cincinnati)

In this section of his verse, he references Ohio, some of its cities, and its NFL team to set up the pun in his punchline. “Since an addy” and “Cincinnati” are homophones, meaning they sound the same when spoken, similar to “bear” and “bare” except more complex. Puns often take advantage of homophones when being executed. Furthermore, his line “That’s the shortest thing for a dress (address) since an addy” is a pun in and of itself. But, because this line has two different jokes in it, does that make it a double entendre too? No.

What is a Double Entendre?

Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, a double entendre is based on the fact that some phrases have a literal and hidden meaning. Typically, when using double-entendres, one interpretation is obvious and the other is not so much. I’ll use an example from my personal life.

I was at a friend’s house, and I noticed he had his TV mounted on the wall. Every other time I went to his house, his TV was on the floor. So I exclaimed, “Oh, you mounted your TV!” And he replied, “Yeah, and then I put it on the wall.” This was a double entendre, implying that he performed a sexual act on his TV similar to how a female may “mount” her partner.

If you still don’t understand the difference between a pun and a double entendre, it’s okay. Most people don’t. I may sometimes call a pun a double entendre (or vice versa) by mistake because it sounds right at the moment. The important thing is that you know how to incorporate them into your lyrics in a way that is entertaining to your audience. At the end of this article, I will teach you exactly how to do that, so stick around.

Why Is Punchline Rap So Fun And Entertaining?

Perhaps, it is because we have a natural desire to release pent-up nervous energy. Maybe we impulsively set out to belong to the group that “gets it”. Whatever the case may be for why humans laugh, one thing is for sure: We love it.

When a rapper is known for his/her punchlines, that becomes their brand, and their fans actively listen for them. They want to hear a clever line that makes them smile, laugh, or otherwise react positively. This is a big reason why battle rap is so lucrative – people love a good punchline!

Diss Tracks and Battle Rap: Punchlines At Someone’s Expense

Diss tracks and battle rap combine the appeal of a well-executed punchline with the guilty pleasure of a roast – laughing at someone else’s pain.

When it comes to these two forms of rap, the more punchlines, the better…as long as they’re landing. The massive popularity of battle rap and the ability for diss tracks to carry someone’s entire career are not only credited to society’s hunger for gossip and drama, but our affinity toward punchline rap.

Now that you understand fundamentally what punchlines are, what they consist of, and their function in hip hop, I will finally teach you how YOU can improve your punchline game TODAY.

How To Write Punchlines

Because I don’t know how popular rappers came around to writing their punchlines, and I don’t want to misspeak on anyone’s behalf, I will create unique examples and walk you through my process.

For beginners, a good practice is to think of your punchline first, instead of writing and hope you come up with something funny. Think of it as an outline before writing an essay, except this is way more fun and you’re passionate about it. Let’s keep it simple: say you’re dissing someone and they’re known to use ghostwriters. You thought of the punchline “Those rhymes ain’t even yours, just like Deebo’s chain”

Okay, so we want to lead up to this line in a way that keeps the audience’s attention, rhymes well, and stays on topic.

Another practice for the next step is to lay out rhyming phrases with your punchline, then putting a star next to potential jab lines like so:

Deebo’s chain

People change

He’s so lame*

Her deepthroat game*

Weak cocaine

I ain’t gonna speak no names*

You get the idea. Then, because your topic is dissing this dude, the ‘deepthroat game’ line could fit if you’re talking about his girl or his mom. Because your punchline mentions that he doesn’t write his own lyrics, the “speak no names” rhyme should precede the Deebo line, so now you can start putting the puzzle pieces together.

“…I ain’t gonna speak no names (premise with jab line)

But those rhymes ain’t even yours, just like Deebo’s chain” (punchline)

I know this bar is kinda whack, but hey, I’m using it for an article. If it was good, I wouldn’t waste it on this.

Okay, let’s focus on his girl’s deepthroat game.

“I was with your ex, peeped her deepthroat game…” (set-up with jab line)

Okay, now what?

“Then I asked about you, she said, “He’s so lame.” (premise with jab line)

BOOM. We’re getting to the punchline. This is all set-up and jab lines, building up to the punchline.

“Shared your little secret, I won’t speak no names” (premise with jab line)

I changed the wording from “I ain’t gonna” to “I won’t” to fit the syllable allowance, while also continuing the storyline I’ve set up.

“But those rhymes ain’t even yours, just like Deebo’s chain!” (punchline)

So now the bars are:

“I was with your ex, peeped her deepthroat game (set-up with jab line)

Then I asked about you, she said, “He’s so lame.” (premise with jab line)

Shared your little secret, I won’t speak no names (premise with jab line)

But those rhymes ain’t even yours, just like Deebo’s chain!” (punchline)

Another Example

Let’s think of another example, since most of you reading this are not currently in the midst of a heated rap beef. Let’s say you’re talking about having sex with a girl, but it’s her time of the month. You came up with the line, “Even when I’m in the paint, I give the best D” drawing the parallel between a basketball player showing good defense when under the rim and you not being phased by a little blood in the bed. That’s a great double entendre.

Now, let’s find rhyme phrases for the punchline and put stars next to the potential jab lines:

Best D

Test me

Impressed me

Sexy

Yes, please

Red Sea***

Messy*

Less deep*

Et cetera. Okay, the one that I have the best feeling about is the ‘Red Sea’ line because it fits the topic at hand. “…parting the Red Sea” is a euphemism for what we’re describing.

“She asked me, “Do you mind parting the Red Sea?” (premise with jab line)

GREAT! Now, adding our punchline right after this line doesn’t flow very well, so we need a transitional line. This may also not be the first line in the set-up because there’s no context. This seems like the second line, and the punchline will be the fourth.

“____________

She asked me, “Do you mind parting the Red Sea? (premise with jab line)

_____________

Even when I’m in the paint, I give the best D” (punchline)

Now, we need to add context to the second line. Let’s pull from our rhyming phrases again.

“Told me that it’s gonna get messy (set-up)

Asked me, “Do you mind parting the Red Sea? (premise with jab line)

_____________

Even when I’m in the paint, I give the best D” (punchline)

We’re close! We just have to think of our response to her question before dropping our punchline. Going back to our rhyming list, “Yes, please!” would be a great response! Are we done? Let’s see:

“Told me that it’s gonna get messy (set-up)

Asked me, “Do you mind parting the Red Sea? (premise with jab line)

Do you still wanna do it?” I said, “Yes, please! (premise with jab line)

Even when I’m in the paint, I give the best D!” (punchline)

There you have it! Practice this at home, and you will become an expert at punchline rap.

Remember to enroll in our Rap Voice Masterclass where we teach you everything you need to discover your voice rappershortcut.com/rap-voice

Also, check out our writing course https://www.smartrapper.com/how-to-write-punchlines-and-multis-course/

Keep hustlin’, Gang. I’ll see you at the top.

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